It was Michelangelo who first breathed life into stone, Giacometti who animated bronze with his touch, and now, it seems there is only one man with acute enough precision to enliven stainless steel. This engineering genius is, of course, contemporary artist Jeff Koons.
Thirty years and many technical assistants later, Koons holds the record for selling the most expensive artwork at auction after Rabbit sold in 2019 for a ground-breaking $91.1 million. As the only live artist to garner such a sum, Koons became the most expensive living artist in the world – an accolade that he continues to hold today.
In celebration of his 66th birthday, taking place on the 21st January, we examine how the American creative sculpted his way to the top and consider other artists following in his footsteps.
Koons is famous for his highly polished balloon animal sculptures. Created in collaboration with German fabrication firm Arnold, the sculptures are rendered in a custom stainless steel alloy that allows maximum sheen. The mirror finish has become Koons’ signature style, with the technique being used to depict everything from shining orbs to titan rabbits.
Many artists have been influenced by Koons’ sculptures and in recent years, a more three dimensional approach to art has become increasingly common thanks to Koons’ practice. One such artist embracing the artistic shift towards sculpture is Dutch creative, Joseph Klibansky.
Originally born in South Africa, Klibansky is taking the world by storm with his menagerie of polished bronze animals. With a recent unveiling across from the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Klibansky’s sculptures can be found in popular locations across the globe, and like Koons, champions a modern metallic aesthetic. As mathematical as it is methodical, both Koons’ and Klibansky’s work take a skilled team of engineers to execute properly. Klibansky’s imaginative and unique designs in particular rely upon the tactility of bronze to remain structurally sound. From the large gemstone in Reflections of Truth II to the perfectly poised alligator of Happily Ever After, Klibansky matches Koons in both imagination and ingenuity.
However, it is not just Klibansky taking inspiration from Koons. Contemporary artist KAWS has also ventured into sculpture with his varying series of iconic Companion figures. Working in both bronze and cast vinyl, the prolific street artist has created a whole range of sculptures that compliment his sought-after screen prints; from figurines the size of children’s toys to a 121-foot inflatable sculpture in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour at Art Basel in 2019.
KAWS’ seamless shift to sculpture, along with Koons’ prominence, has encouraged many other artists to turn their hand to sculpture. From established sculptors Bran Symondson and Schoony, to artists who are slightly newer to the medium like Jerkface and Bradley Theodore, Koons has truly ignited a passion for sculpture within contemporary art. So much so that the medium has come to hold an important place in both celebrated collections and investment portfolios.